Criminalizing Free Speech about Israel

July 21, 2017

Allan Brownfeld shows how desperate the Israel lobby is in making BDS a criminal offence. It also shows how craven US politicians are when it comes to Israel’s crimes.

Israel has now occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem for fifty years, in violation of international law.  The U.S. Government, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, has advocated Israeli withdrawal from these territories and called for the establishment of a Palestinian state.  Israel’s current government is committed to keeping these territories.  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declares that a Palestinian state will never be established while he holds power.  Instead, Israel is settling these occupied areas with its own citizens—approximately 700,000 so far. Some members of the Israeli government called for the annexation of these territories.

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Around the world, those who object to this occupation and to the denial of basic rights to the Palestinians living in these areas, have embarked upon a peaceful movement calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.  This movement has been compared to the boycott movement against South Africa during the years of apartheid.  American churches—including the Presbyterians, Mennonites and the United Church of Christ—have voted to divest from companies assisting in the occupation.  Jewish groups, such as Jewish Voice for Peace, support this effort.

 

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There are those, however, who are seeking to make any calls for such a boycott illegal.  Legislation to this effect was drafted with the assistance of the militant Israeli lobbying group, AIPAC, and has the support of the far-right Christians United For Israel.  A group of 43 senators—29 Republicans and 14 Democrats—-now want to implement a law that would make it a felony for Americans to support any boycott against Israel.  The  two primary sponsors of the bill are Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland and Republican Rob Portman of Ohio.  Perhaps the most extraordinary  part of the bill is the punishment:  anyone guilty of violating its prohibitions will face a maximum civil penalty of $250,000 and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison.

 

Writing in The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Grim show that one of the bill’s sponsors, Sen Cardin of Maryland, actually did not know what was in the bill at all. They note that he was “particularly insisting that it contains no criminal penalties.”  How many of the other co-sponsors have any idea what is in the bill they are supporting, apparently submitting to the desires of AIPAC, which seems to have written the legislation? 

 

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Discussing this legislation in The American Conservative, Daniel Larison declares that, “Whatever one thinks about the BDS movement…it is deranged to try to criminalize protected political speech and association. As the ACLU points out, that is what the bill does. This legislation is clearly unconstitutional and I assume it would be struck down in court if it were ever signed into law, but the deeper problem is that so many elected representatives think it is appropriate and desirable to trample on constitutional rights to defend another government’s illegal occupation. It is a measure of how lopsided and unthinking ‘pro-Israel’ hawks are in their support for bad Israeli policies they would try to infringe on Americans’ rights and threaten citizens of their own country with prosecution for engaging in peaceful political action.  It Is also a sign of how frightened these same hawks are that they feel the need to resort to such heavy handed tactics.”

Israel’s long-term best interests are not being served by those who are uncritical of its occupation, a fact that many Israelis understand.  Professor David Shulman of Hebrew University notes that, “No matter how we look at it, unless our minds have been poisoned by the ideologies of the religious right, the occupation is a crime.  It is first of all based on the permanent disenfranchisement of a huge population….In the end. It is the ongoing moral failure of the country as a whole that is most consequential, most dangerous, and most unacceptable.  This failure weighs…heavily on our humanity.  We are, so we claim, the children of the prophets.  Once, they say, we were slaves in Egypt.  We know all that can be known about slavery, suffering, prejudice, ghettos, hate, expulsion, exile.  I still find it astonishing that we, of all people, have reinvented apartheid in the West Bank.”

While Israeli settlers enjoy protection from the Israeli army and subsidies from the government. Israel keeps 3 million indigenous Palestinians in the West Bank under military rule with restrictions placed on nearly every aspect of their lives.  While Palestinians  live under military law and cannot vote, settlers have full rights of Israeli citizenship.

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Dan Ephron, author of “Killing a King:  The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the Remaking of Israel,” describes  it this way:  “…it includes separate legal systems—Israeli law for settlers and much harsher military law for Palestinians—and separate courts that mete out wildly unequal penalties…On Israel’s Independence Day in May, the government’s Central Bureau of Statistics published a report with updated population figures…A map in the report depicted the West Bank as just one more region of Israel, labeling it ‘Judea and Samaria District.’ The population figure, 8.68 million. included settlers who live in the West Bank.  But it left out their neighbors, the Palestinians.”

 

Clearly, the Israeli government is promoting the idea that the occupied territories are really part of Israel.  The Green Line, the border which separates Israel proper from the occupied areas, no longer appears on schoolbook maps or newspaper weather charts.

 

The Economist declares that, “…the never-ending subjugation of Palestinians will erode Israel’s standing abroad and erode its democracy at home.  Its politics are turning towards ethno-religious chauvinism….The government objected even to a novel about a Jewish-Arab love affair…To save democracy and prevent a slide to racism or even apartheid, it has to give up the occupied lands.”

Editorially, The Los Angeles Times notes that, “…whether one agrees with the goals of BDS or not, the fact remains that boycotts are a form of speech, a classic form of political expression…Truly free countries tolerate peaceful dissent.  The 50-year occupation of the Palestinian Territories…has gone on for too long and must eventually be brought to an end.”

The political director of the ACLU, Faiz Shakir, expressed this view of the proposed legislation which would criminalize support for any boycott of Israel:  “We take no position for or against the effort to boycott Israel or any other foreign country, for that matter.  We do assert that the government cannot, consistent with the First Amendment,  punish U.S. persons based solely on their expressed political beliefs.  The bill would punish businesses and individuals based solely on their point of view.  Such a penalty is in direct violation of the First Amendment.”

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AIPAC and its friends in Congress have a strange way to show support for Israel’s 50-year occupation—by eliminating free speech on the subject in the U.S.  They are embracing a policy which is, in fact, both harmful to Israel’s own long-term best interest, and contemptuous of American values of free speech.  During the years of apartheid in South Africa, there were heated debates about the merits of a boycott campaign—–but no one tried to make advocating such a boycott a criminal act.  Regardless of one’s view about the BDS campaign, Congress must reject any effort to criminalize free speech and peaceful, non-violent protest.

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Allan C. Brownfeld is a nationally syndicated columnist and editor of ISSUES, the quarterly journal of the American Council,for Judaism.

Mike Pence, great leader

July 20, 2017

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WASHINGTONVice President Mike Pence told evangelical supporters of Israel that God had a hand in creating the state of Israel and that his support for the country is rooted in his faith.

So reports Religion News Service.

One wonders what kind of faith this is.

“Indeed, though Israel was built by human hands it is impossible not to sense that just beneath its history lies the hand of heaven,” Pence told the annual summit of Christians United for Israel on July 17. The group, founded by San Antonio pastor John Hagee, bills itself as the largest pro-Israel organization in the U.S. It is composed largely of evangelicals and Christian Zionists

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Ridiculed by bible scholars everywhere they believe that Jews will be ingathered in Israel and then….

 

In his book The End of Days, Gershom Gorenberg says “The Jews die or convert. As a Jew, I can’t feel very comfortable with the affections of somebody who looks forward to that scenario…..They don’t love real Jewish people. They love us as characters in their story, in their play, and that’s not who we are, and we never auditioned for that part, and the play is not one that ends up good for us. If you listen to the drama they’re describing, essentially it’s a five-act play in which the Jews disappear in the fourth act.”
Bad theology begets bad practice

 

Pence has had a long history of Christian jihad as the Intercept described his bizarre career.

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He has never wavered in his commitment to America-First militarism, the criminalizing of abortion, and utter hatred for gay people (unless they go into conversion therapy “to change their sexual behavior,” which Pence has suggested the government pay for).Pence has been at the forefront of the movement to defund Planned Parenthood.

 

Pence has an impressively atrocious record on environmental issues and a slavish devotion to big energy and big oil companies.

Forget all this. God somehow is behind Israel’s success.It can never be criticized. It has divine protection. The Palestinians, either nowhere to be seen or all terrorists.

Mike Pence, great American—and now mum on his fundamentalist Christianity.

 

No investment in Israeli apartheid

July 16, 2017

Global Church body with 80 million members takes action supporting Palestine, calls for examination of investments

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(Palestinian pastor,  Reverend Mitri Raheb from Bethlehem speaking at WCRC)

14 July 2017 | https://tinyurl.com/ycdach4r

The General Council of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC), representing over 80 million Christians, has called on its members and member churches to take action in support of the Palestinian people living under Israeli occupation and oppression (click here).

The WCRC held its 26th General Council this past week in Leipzig (Germany) where, among other speakers were BDS South Africa’s Chairperson, Professor Farid Esack as well as a leading Palestinian theologian and pastor from the holy town of Bethlehem in Palestine, Reverend Mitri Raheb (click here). The General Council, the highest decision-making body of the WCRC, stated that “many of us have seen with our eyes and heard with our ears the painful realities of life for Palestinians…with respect to the situation of injustice and suffering that exists in Palestine, and the cry of the Palestinian Christian community, the integrity of Christian faith and praxis is at stake.”

Among other measures, the WCRC has urged its more than 225 member churches worldwide to examine their investment relationships and to disseminate to members educational materials on the Palestinian situation. The WCRC also cautioned that the Christian faith should not be used to justify the injustice against the Palestinian people and rejected any use of the Bible “to legitimize or support political options and positions that are based upon injustice, imposed by one person on another, or by one people on another.”

The WCRC General Council also instructed its Executive Committee to respond to the letter of 21 June 2017 from the National Coalition of Christian Organizations in Palestine (NCCOP) indicating what actions can be taken by the WCRC in response to the Palestinian Christians’s cry for “costly solidarity”.

Last month, on the 21st of June, Palestinian Christians belonging to the NCCOP wrote an open letter to churches worldwide calling for “costly solidarity” and support of the BDS boycott of Israel. The Palestinian Christians wrote: “[We call on you to] call things as they are: recognize Israel as an apartheid state in terms of international law […] we need your costly solidarity. We need brave women and men who are willing to stand in the forefront. This is no time for shallow diplomacy Christians […] we ask that you speak in support of economic measures that pressure Israel to stop the occupation and that you support athletic, cultural, and academic measures against Israel until it complies with international law and UN resolutions […] in response to Israel’s war on BDS, we ask that you intensify that measure.” (Click here for the NCCOP letter)

The WCRC represents over 80 million Christians in Congregational, Presbyterian, Reformed, United, Uniting and Waldensian churches in over 100 countries. South African churches belonging to the WCRC include the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC)/Nederduits Gereformeerde Kerk (NGK), Evangelical Presbyterian Church in South Africa, Nederduitsch Hervormde Kerk van Afrika/ Dutch Reformed Church in Africa (DRCA)/(NGKA), Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa, United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA), Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa, and the Maranatha Reformed Church of Christ.

The South African Christian theological organization, Karios Southern Africa, has welcomed the WCRC action in support of Palestine saying: “We celebrate the WCRC’s unique voice in the growing chorus of Christian communities in ending “shallow church diplomacy“. It is our prayer and hope that this ecumenical family will thereby actively add your unique presence towards a just peace in Palestine/Israel. We look forward to seeing the fruits of these resolutions. We therefore pray for wisdom and courage in implementing them as stewards of moral consistency…we and many others are with you on this journey.” (Click here for the Kairos SA message of support).

ISSUED BY KWARA KEKANA ON BEHALF OF BDS SOUTH AFRICA

Palestine, still the issue

July 13, 2017

“Palestine,” said Nelson Mandela, “is the greatest moral issue of our time.”

Why is this truth suppressed, day after day, month after month, year after year?

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By John Pilger

When I first went to Palestine as a young reporter in the 1960s, I stayed on a kibbutz. The people I met were hard-working, spirited and called themselves socialists. I liked them.

One evening at dinner, I asked about the silhouettes of people in the far distance, beyond our perimeter.

“Arabs,” they said, “nomads.” The words were almost spat out. Israel, they said, meaning Palestine, had been mostly wasteland and one of the great feats of the Zionist enterprise was to turn the desert green.

They gave as an example their crop of Jaffa oranges, which was exported to the rest of the world. What a triumph against the odds of nature and humanity’s neglect.

It was the first lie. Most of the orange groves and vineyards belonged to Palestinians who had been tilling the soil and exporting oranges and grapes to Europe since the eighteenth century. The former Palestinian town of Jaffa was known by its previous inhabitants as “the place of sad oranges.”

On the kibbutz, the word “Palestinian” was never used. Why, I asked. The answer was a troubled silence.

 

Unknown-1.jpegAll over the colonized world, the true sovereignty of indigenous people is feared by those who can never quite cover the fact, and the crime, that they live on stolen land.

Denying people’s humanity is the next step – as the Jewish people know only too well. Defiling people’s dignity and culture and pride follows as logically as violence.

In Ramallah, following an invasion of the West Bank by the late Ariel Sharon in 2002, I walked through streets of crushed cars and demolished houses, to the Palestinian Cultural Centre. Until that morning, Israeli soldiers had camped there.

I was met by the centre’s director, the novelist, Liana Badr, whose original manuscripts lay scattered and torn across the floor. The hard drive containing her fiction, and a library of plays and poetry had been taken by Israeli soldiers. Almost everything was smashed, and defiled.

Not a single book survived with all its pages; not a single master tape from one of the best collections of Palestinian cinema.

The soldiers had urinated and defecated on the floors, on desks, on embroideries and works of art. They had smeared feces on children’s paintings and written – in shit – “Born to kill”.

Liana Badr had tears in her eyes, but she was unbowed. She said, “We will make it right again.”

What enrages those who colonize and occupy, steal and oppress, vandalize and defile is the victims’ refusal to comply. And this is the tribute we all should pay the Palestinians. They refuse to comply. They go on. They wait – until they fight again. And they do so even when those governing them collaborate with their oppressors.

 

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In the midst of the 2014 Israeli bombardment of Gaza, the Palestinian journalist Mohammed Omer never stopped reporting. He and his family were stricken; he queued for food and water and carried it through the rubble. When I phoned him, I could hear the bombs outside his door. He refused to comply.

Mohammed’s reports, illustrated by his graphic photographs, were a model of professional journalism that shamed the compliant and craven reporting of the so-called mainstream in Britain and the United States. The BBC notion of objectivity – amplifying the myths and lies of authority, a practice of which it is proud – is shamed every day by the likes of Mohamed Omer.

For more than 40 years, I have recorded the refusal of the people of Palestine to comply with their oppressors: Israel, the United States, Britain, the European Union.

Since 2008, Britain alone has granted licenses for export to Israel of arms and missiles, drones and sniper rifles, worth £434 million.

Those who have stood up to this, without weapons, those who have refused to comply, are among Palestinians I have been privileged to know:

My friend, the late Mohammed Jarella, who toiled for the United Nations agency UNRWA, in 1967 showed me a Palestinian refugee camp for the first time. It was a bitter winter’s day and schoolchildren shook with the cold. “One day …” he would say. “One day …”

Mustafa Barghouti, whose eloquence remains undimmed, who described the tolerance that existed in Palestine among Jews, Muslims and Christians until, as he told me, “the Zionists wanted a state at the expense of the Palestinians.”

Dr. Mona El-Farra, a physician in Gaza, whose passion was raising money for plastic surgery for children disfigured by Israeli bullets and shrapnel. Her hospital was flattened by Israeli bombs in 2014.

Dr. Khalid Dahlan, a psychiatrist, whose clinics for children in Gaza — children sent almost mad by Israeli violence — were oases of civilization.

A Dead Infant

Fatima and Nasser are a couple whose home stood in a village near Jerusalem designated “Zone A and B,” meaning that the land was declared for Jews only. Their parents had lived there; their grandparents had lived there. Today, the bulldozers are laying roads for Jews only, protected by laws for Jews only.

It was past midnight when Fatima went into labor with their second child. The baby was premature; and when they arrived at a checkpoint with the hospital in view, the young Israeli soldier said they needed another document.

Fatima was bleeding badly. The soldier laughed and imitated her moans and told them, “Go home.” The baby was born there in a truck. It was blue with cold and soon, without care, died from exposure. The baby’s name was Sultan.

For Palestinians, these will be familiar stories. The question is: why are they not familiar in London and Washington, Brussels and Sydney?

In Syria, a recent liberal cause — a George Clooney cause — is bankrolled handsomely in Britain and the United States, even though the beneficiaries, the so-called rebels, are dominated by jihadist fanatics, the product of the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq and the destruction of modern Libya.

 

 

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And yet, the longest occupation and resistance in modern times is not recognized. When the United Nations suddenly stirs and defines Israel as an apartheid state, as it did this year, there is outrage – not against a state whose “core purpose” is racism but against a U.N. commission that dared break the silence.

“Palestine,” said Nelson Mandela, “is the greatest moral issue of our time.”

Why is this truth suppressed, day after day, month after month, year after year?

On Israel – the apartheid state, guilty of a crime against humanity and of more international law-breaking than any other– the silence persists among those who know and whose job it is to keep the record straight.

On Israel, so much journalism is intimidated and controlled by a groupthink that demands silence on Palestine while honorable journalism has become dissidence: a metaphoric underground.

A single word – “conflict” – enables this silence. “The Arab-Israeli conflict”, intone the robots at their tele-prompters. When a veteran BBC reporter, a man who knows the truth, refers to “two narratives”, the moral contortion is complete.

There is no conflict, no two narratives, with their moral fulcrum. There is a military occupation enforced by a nuclear-armed power backed by the greatest military power on earth; and there is an epic injustice.

The word “occupation” may be banned, deleted from the dictionary. But the memory of historical truth cannot be banned: of the systemic expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland. “Plan D” the Israelis called it in 1948.

The Israeli historian Benny Morris describes how David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, was asked by one of his generals: “What shall we do with the Arabs?”

The prime minister, wrote Morris, “made a dismissive, energetic gesture with his hand”. “Expel them!” he said.

Seventy years later, this crime is suppressed in the intellectual and political culture of the West. Or it is debatable, or merely controversial. Highly-paid journalists and eagerly accept Israeli government trips, hospitality and flattery, then are truculent in their protestations of independence. The term, “useful idiots,” was coined for them.

Accepting Awards

In 2011, I was struck by the ease with which one of Britain’s most acclaimed novelists, Ian McEwan, a man bathed in the glow of bourgeois enlightenment, accepted the Jerusalem Prize for literature in the apartheid state.

Would McEwan have gone to Sun City in apartheid South Africa? They gave prizes there, too, all expenses paid. McEwan justified his action with weasel words about the independence of “civil society”.

Propaganda – of the kind McEwan delivered, with its token slap on the wrists for his delighted hosts – is a weapon for the oppressors of Palestine. Like sugar, it insinuates almost everything today.

Understanding and deconstructing state and cultural propaganda is our most critical task. We are being frog-marched into a second cold war, whose eventual aim is to subdue and balkanize Russia and intimidate China.

When Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin spoke privately for more than two hours at the G20 meeting in Hamburg, apparently about the need not to go to war with each other, the most vociferous objectors were those who have commandeered liberalism, such as the Zionist political writer of the Guardian.

“No wonder Putin was smiling in Hamburg,” wrote Jonathan Freedland. “He knows he has succeeded in his chief objective: he has made America weak again.” Cue the hissing for Evil Vlad.

These propagandists have never known war but they love the imperial game of war. What Ian McEwan calls “civil society” has become a rich source of related propaganda.

Take a term often used by the guardians of civil society — “human rights.” Like another noble concept, “democracy,” “human rights” has been all but emptied of its meaning and purpose.

Like “peace process” and “road map,” human rights in Palestine have been hijacked by Western governments and the corporate NGOs they fund and which claim a quixotic moral authority.

So when Israel is called upon by governments and NGOs to “respect human rights” in Palestine, nothing happens, because they all know there is nothing to fear; nothing will change.

 

 

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Mark the silence of the European Union, which accommodates Israel while refusing to maintain its commitments to the people of Gaza — such as keeping the lifeline of the Rafah border crossing open: a measure it agreed to as part of its role in the cessation of fighting in 2014. A seaport for Gaza – agreed by Brussels in 2014 – has been abandoned.

The U.N. commission I have referred to – its full name is the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia — described Israel as, and I quote, “designed for the core purpose” of racial discrimination.

Millions understand this. What the governments in London, Washington, Brussels and Tel Aviv cannot control is that humanity at street level is changing perhaps as never before.

A World Stirring

People everywhere are stirring and are more aware, in my view, than ever before. Some are already in open revolt. The atrocity of Grenfell Tower in London has brought communities together in a vibrant almost national resistance.

Thanks to a people’s campaign, the judiciary is today examining the evidence of a possible prosecution of Tony Blair for war crimes. Even if this fails, it is a crucial development, dismantling yet another barrier between the public and its recognition of the voracious nature of the crimes of state power the systemic disregard for humanity perpetrated in Iraq, in Grenfell Tower, in Palestine. Those are the dots waiting to be joined.

 

 

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For most of the Twenty-first Century, the fraud of corporate power posing as democracy has depended on the propaganda of distraction: largely on a cult of “me-ism” designed to disorientate our sense of looking out for others, of acting together, of social justice and internationalism.

Class, gender and race were wrenched apart. The personal became the political and the media the message. The promotion of bourgeois privilege was presented as “progressive” politics. It wasn’t. It never is. It is the promotion of privilege, and power.

Among young people, internationalism has found a vast new audience. Look at the support for Jeremy Corbyn and the reception the G20 circus in Hamburg received. By understanding the truth and imperatives of internationalism, and rejecting colonialism, we understand the struggle of Palestine.

Mandela put it this way: “We know only too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”

At the heart of the Middle East is the historic injustice in Palestine. Until that is resolved, and Palestinians have their freedom and homeland, and Israelis are Palestinians equality before the law, there will be no peace in the region, or perhaps anywhere.

 

 

cropped-bds-logo-imageWhat Mandela was saying is that freedom itself is precarious while powerful governments can deny justice to others, terrorize others, imprison and kill others, in our name. Israel certainly understands the threat that one day it might have to be normal.

That is why its ambassador to Britain is Mark Regev, well known to journalists as a professional propagandist, and why the “huge bluff” of charges of anti-Semitism, as Ilan Pappe called it, was allowed to contort the Labour Party and undermine Jeremy Corbyn as leader. The point is, it did not succeed.

Events are moving quickly now. The remarkable Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS) is succeeding, day by day; cities and towns, trade unions and student bodies are endorsing it. The British government’s attempt to restrict local councils from enforcing BDS has failed in the courts.

These are not straws in the wind. When the Palestinians rise again, as they will, they may not succeed at first — but they will eventually if we understand that they are us, and we are them.

This is an abridged version of John Pilger’s address to the Palestinian Expo 2017 in London. John Pilger’s film, ‘Palestine Is Still the Issue’, can be viewedhttp://www.informationclearinghouse.info/47416.htm

 

Israel Labour-more of the same

July 9, 2017

We all know that the Labour party of Israel is as corrupt and blind as whatever the right wing throws up— be it Herut, Likud, Kadima et. The latter 3 were always demonized by the putative peace camp and whatever progressives called themselves, but history shows Labour was no different—ever. Yitzhak Rabin memorialized after his 1994 assassination as “the liberal hope for Israel” was an ardent expeller as a general, a bone breaker in the intifada and a back turner when Likud began its enthusiastic theft of Palestinian land. He once upbraided Begin for crowing about his settlement promotion, saying we do the same thing but we are more sneaky about it—to fool the dumb Americans that we really are the party of peace.

 

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Now Labour is about to choose a new leader.

 
Here’s Gideon Levy:

 

The primaries of a social-democrat opposition party were conducted without one principled word about the crimes of this government, about electricity supplies to Gaza, executions at checkpoints, the human rights group Breaking the Silence, the repeated political detention of Khalida Jarrar, a Palestinian member of parliament. How dare they ask for the trust of party members without referring to these topics? Does anyone know what they really think about these issues? Is the Peretz of 2017, the courageous dove and the leader of the Second Lebanon War and its crimes, more a man of peace than Gabbay is?

 

Maybe the opposite is true? Does anyone care? Is it too much to expect the candidates to utter some clear words, such as promising to fight for the renewal of electricity to Gaza? They should tell the truth: The occupation is not temporary and was never intended to be such; that building settlements was and is a crime; that administrative detainees should be released; that negotiations should be held with Hamas and not just over the return of bodies. It’s all wishful thinking.

 

Levy sighs as he ends his latest article:

 
Labor is the curse of the left, the blockage in the sewer pipe, without the removal of which there will be no true left wing here.

 

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The kangaroo Court

July 8, 2017

Tomorrow I begin trial on 18 charges in Israel military court. It is a kangaroo court system where there is no justice at all. The charges against me are an effort to shut down my human rights work and stop me from speaking up for my people.

But no matter what I will not be silent. Recently, Israel moved from segregated streets in Hebron to enclosing entire Palestinian neighborhoods. The gate is locked at 11pm each night and families are imprisoned inside. So, even as I prepare for the surety of my conviction, I am working to end this new injustice.

Tomorrow the first two of the 38 witnesses against me will testify. All of the witnesses are settlers and soldiers. The judge and prosecutor are military officers. The conviction rate is 99.74%!

Court

In an encouraging show of support 32 members of US congress released a letter last week to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asking him to tell Israel to reconsider the charges against me. Yesterday, UN human rights experts followed suit and also called on Israel to reconsider the charges.

As I enter Ofer military court tomorrow, I know all of you will be there with me in spirit. I appreciate your support. If you are able, please make a donation to support the continuation of my work.

In solidarity,

Issa Amro

Fear in the rabbinate

July 7, 2017

HARET

 

Most rabbis who see the reality of occupation are unwilling to have their names or photos published. Their congregations back home, they explain, might not understand their decision to participate in a tour that offers a different narrative about the conflict – one that puts a human face on the other side and doesn’t paint Israel in the usual rosy colors.

 
“Most of these people have never had an opportunity to see what the Palestinians experience,” says Rabbi Jill Jacobs, the executive director of T’ruah, “Their synagogue boards are attached to AIPAC.
“We are losing the next generation,” one rabbi lamented; but the rabbis avoid talking about Israel lest they divide the congregation.

The elders have romaticized israel; the youth see what’s happening.

Oy vei, what a conundrum.

Rabbis spooked by Hebron

July 6, 2017

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Survey after survey tells the same story. The rabbinate is terrified of even raising the issue of Israel/Palestine in the USA and Canada. This is totally understandable.

Once in awhile a prophetic rabbi says, “Enough” and has to leave his post. However, we should cut rabbis a wide swath. Most are family people and need a job. To be openly anti-occupation is to become a lightning rod and most are unwilling to become one.

One trip to Hebron would be enough for any human being to be disgusted. Here you have a small group of fanatic settlers about 600 surrounded by over 200,000 palestinians.The IDF is there to “defend” the settlers.

This article, abridged for length, appeared yesterday in Haaretz

Sight Rabbis’ visit comes after 50th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of West Bank. What hadn’t been planned, though, up was that their trip would coincide with one of the worst crises ever in relations between Israel and the U.S. Jewish community,

Rabbi Stanley Kessler first visited Hebron in 1967, just after the Six-Day War. He returned for a second visit in 1973. This week, at age 94, he came back for his third trip and hardly recognized the city. “I have difficulty seeing what I’m seeing,” he says, pausing for a moment of reflection after a stroll, on a sweltering day, through what used to be the bustling center of this West Bank city.

 

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“On my previous trips, the streets were swarming with people. And now, I didn’t even see one single person.” “Where has everyone gone?” wonders Kessler, who served for 40 years as rabbi of a large Conservative congregation in Hartford, Connecticut, and had studied under Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of America’s most revered rabbis. Kessler has been around, as they say. During World War II, he served as an aerial gunner and radio operator in the U.S. Air Force, flying 18 missions over Europe. In 1963, he was one of 18 rabbis who marched for black civil rights with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Birmingham, Alabama. In the late 1960s, he was active in the anti-Vietnam War movement.

KESS

But something about this most recent trip to Hebron – a city where the entire story of the Israeli occupation plays out in a nutshell – has shaken him deeply. Perhaps because the last time he visited here, before Israeli settlers had set up a base in the city, he saw Palestinians moving around freely and businesses that were thriving. Perhaps because the last time he visited here, checkpoints manned by the Israel Defense Forces were not stationed at every corner. Perhaps because the last time he visited here, no streets or neighborhoods were declared off-limits to Palestinians. Or perhaps because during those visits, he was not greeted by rows upon rows of empty shops sealed shut by military order.

 

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“I am terribly sad,” he says. “And now, after hearing the stories of soldiers who served here, I am also infuriated.” Kessler was one of a group of about a dozen American rabbis visiting Hebron Sunday on a tour jointly sponsored by T’ruah, a U.S.-based organization of rabbis active in promoting human rights, and Breaking the Silence, a group of former IDF soldiers dedicated to fighting the Israeli occupation, who collect and publish personal testimonies about their military service in locations like Hebron. Several of these testimonies were read out during the tour. Among the participants on the tour are Conservative rabbis, Reform rabbis, a representative of the Jewish Renewal movement, and even one Orthodox rabbi who describes the political orientation of his community as “somewhere between AIPAC and the Zionist Organization of America” – referring to the pro-Israel lobby in Washington, at one end, and one of the most right-wing Jewish organizations in the United States, at the other.

 

Most of them are participating this summer in a special leadership program run by the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. Unlike Kessler, most of the other rabbis have never been to Hebron before. And unlike Kessler, most of them are unwilling to have their names or photos published. Their congregations back home, they explain, might not understand their decision to participate in a tour that offers a different narrative about the conflict – one that puts a human face on the other side and doesn’t paint Israel in the usual rosy colors. “Most of these people have never had an opportunity to see what the Palestinians experience,” says Rabbi Jill Jacobs, the executive director of T’ruah, in a phone call from her New York office. “Nor have they had the opportunity to talk to Israeli [army] vets who have risked their lives for the country and are deeply committed to its long-term security. We believe that seeing things on the ground and bringing this to the level of human beings makes all the difference.”

Shuhad

 

The group’s visit comes barely a month after Israel marked the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War, when the West Bank (and Hebron along with it) was captured from Jordan. What hadn’t been planned, though, when these rabbis signed up was that their trip would coincide with one of the worst crises ever in relations between Israel and the American Jewish community. Exactly one week before they boarded a bus to Hebron to experience the Israeli occupation up close, the Israeli government – as far as the vast majority American Jews were concerned – told them, in not so many words, to get lost.

 

Last Sunday, the cabinet voted to retract its commitment to build a new and permanent egalitarian prayer plaza at the Western Wall where non-Orthodox Jews (who represent the overwhelming majority in the United States) would have been able to hold mixed-prayer services. Later in the day, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted to advance legislation that would deny recognition of any conversions performed in Israel outside the Orthodox state-sanctioned system. That latter decision has since been put on hold. These government actions have sparked an unprecedented backlash from American Jewish leaders.

 

Might they now find the courage take a stand against other Israeli policies deemed harmful to the future of Israeli democracy – the occupation, for example? This was not a question any of these particular rabbis was ready to address on this trip, at least not on record. As Frima (“Merphie”) Bubis, their 23-year-old Israeli-born guide from Breaking the Silence, said to them: “It’s so much easier to talk about women’s rights, the Kotel (Western Wall) and egalitarian minyanim (prayer forums).”

 

Settler mindset Before heading into Hebron, the bus makes a short detour to the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba. By way of introduction, Bubis points out two sites that speak volumes about the mindset of the local settler population: a park named after Meir Kahane, the racist American-born rabbi whose political party was outlawed in Israel, and the burial place of Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish-American physician who lived in town and who, on the Jewish holiday of Purim in 1994, shot dead 29 Palestinians praying in the nearby Tomb of the Patriarchs. The rabbis can hardly conceal their shock at the words inscribed on his tombstone: “His hands are clean and his heart is pure.

 

kahGOLD

 

Hebron is the only Palestinian city in the West Bank that has an Israeli settlement located within it. A total of about 850 Israelis (including about 200 yeshiva students, who are not full-time residents) live here among 200,000 Palestinians – among them, some of the most radical and violent settlers to have emerged during a half-century of occupation. To make sure that the city’s tiny Jewish population is protected, hundreds of Israeli soldiers patrol the streets here. But even this very conspicuous military presence is not enough, as the rabbis on the tour soon learn. To avoid friction between the two hostile populations, Israel has imposed heavy restrictions on the movement of Palestinian residents in what used to be bustling downtown Hebron.

 

So Muhanned Qafesha, a local journalist and an activist in Youth Against Settlements – a Palestinian organization that advocates nonviolent resistance against the occupation, comes to brief the rabbis in their air-conditioned bus. The walk from his office to the bus should have taken all of four minutes, but after being held up at a military checkpoint, as he explains while apologizing for the delay, the trip took four times as long…. “You people don’t live here in Hebron, like I do,” he laments. “You come from America and from Israel, but because of the occupation, ironically, you have more rights in this city than I do.

 

Rabbi Daniel Burg, a Conservative rabbi from Baltimore, has visited the West Bank before but had never been to Hebron. “What was most eye-opening for me,” he says on the trip back, “was all the minutiae – how from street to street, neighborhood to neighborhood, decisions are made in various offices that have such a profound effect on the lives of individuals here.” His primary motivation for signing up for the trip, he says, was his deep curiosity about Breaking the Silence. “I was intrigued to find out whether they deserve all the vitriol coming their way,” Burg explains. “Instinctively, I felt that they didn’t, but I wanted to find out for myself.” His conclusion? “If this young woman leading our group today is representative, then I would say it’s a very important organization.”

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Rabbi Michael Adam Latz, who runs a progressive congregation in Minneapolis, called the Hebron tour “eye-opening and heart-wrenching.” Clearly there have been “terrible acts of heinous violence” on both sides – Israeli and Palestinian, he says. “But Israel is the occupying force here, and for me, that is deeply deeply distressing.” Missing voices On the way back to Jerusalem, the rabbis stop at a hotel in the Palestinian town of Beit Jala, just outside the city, to collect their thoughts and share impressions. “For me,” says Stephanie Kramer, a Reform rabbi from Santa Rosa, California, “every time I heard the term ‘sterile’ used to describe a street, it was really painful.” Some of the other rabbis nod their heads in agreement. ‘

Judy Maltz Haaretz Correspondent

Academics to NDP: Wake up

July 4, 2017

The putative party of social justice, Canada’s NDP has sadly found itself way behind the curve on the issue of Middle East peace. Former leader Tom Mulcair was hopeless on the issue  and the present PM seems terrified of alienating any member of the Jewish community as if that community were all on board totally supporting occupation.

TRU44

 

At the present moment only Nicky Ashton of the leadership candidates has shown any courage on confronting the obvious: Israel can not be both a Jewish state and a democracy. Canada used to be a “Christian” country; today you would be laughed out if you made that claim. The following analysis from members of the academic community is both cogent and to the point.

To the membership and leadership of the New Democratic Party of Canada,

 

 

TRU 45
We send you this letter at a time that necessitates strong principle and action. For 50 years, the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza have been subjected to a military occupation imposed upon them by the State of Israel. This system of subjugation draws itself across ethnic and racial lines, and dominates every aspect of Palestinian life. We have been told from the very start that Israel’s occupation is temporary, and yet for half a century now, it is only entrenching itself further.

 

I am
The Palestinian people are victims to decades of brutal mistreatment by the State of Israel.
In the West Bank, Israel’s illegal settlements continue expanding on top of Palestinian lands with the sponsorship and protection of the Israeli government. The manner by which these settlements expand strips Palestinian families of their private properties, pushes them into small pockets of territory and shatters the prospect of a viable Palestinian state.

manly
To secure the settlements from opposition, the Israeli military commits grave human and civil rights violations against Palestinians. These violations are well documented, by both international human rights organizations like Amnesty International and Israeli ones like B’Tselem. The violations are too numerous to exhaustively list but among their most serious is the dual legal system that enforces punitive military law on Palestinians and lenient civilian law on Israeli settlers. It is because of this legal system’s character of racial discrimination that over 6,300 Palestinian political prisoners, many of whom are held without charge or trial, sit in cells whose squalid conditions they protest through hunger strikes.
The roughly two million Palestinians living in the tiny Gaza Strip find themselves in a different situation that is no less repressive. For over a decade they have been held captives to a total military blockade put in place mostly by the Israeli government, with support from the Egyptian government, in an act of collective punishment strictly prohibited by international law. This was in conjunction with several Israeli military attacks in the strip that killed thousands of Palestinians, the vast majority of whom were civilians. Since the beginning of the blockade, few Palestinians have been able to leave, and limited supplies have been allowed to enter. Indeed, the humanitarian conditions that arise from this blockade are so dire that the United Nations has warned Gaza will become uninhabitable by 2020.
Let the story of the NDP on Palestine be one that we all can praise.
Of course, the Israeli occupation, whose 50th anniversary we mark this month, began a mere 19 years after another Palestinian trauma, namely, the forced removal from Israel’s territory of over 750,000 Palestinians who would have otherwise become Israeli citizens. Not only were they barred from ever returning to their homes precisely because they were Palestinians, but their property was also confiscated, and no compensation was ever given. To this day, 69 years later, they remain in a state of limbo and dispossession, awaiting return.
Acknowledging this reality does not make one biased or one-sided, and most certainly not anti-Semitic. It is simply a statement of truth and fact: the Palestinian people are victims to decades of brutal mistreatment by the State of Israel. And while there is no doubt that at times innocent Israeli lives have been lost at the hands of Palestinians, and that their humanity must never be belittled or negated, we insist that the solution to Israeli fears is identical to that of Palestinian suffering: alleviating the systemic injustices Palestinians face. First and foremost, this means an end to the ongoing military occupation.

 
It is in this spirit that we, the undersigned, send this letter. We send it in the hope of energizing a stagnant conversation within your circles on this issue, and to appeal to your unique history of progressive leadership. We are indeed at a watershed moment that will be looked back upon and scrutinized for stories of principled conviction. Let the story of the NDP on Palestine be one that we all can praise.
With that intent, we propose that the New Democratic Party of Canada commit to the following, both in opposition and in government:

 

WANT
1. condemning Israeli settlements as a violation of international law and as an impediment to a just resolution;
2. calling upon the State of Israel to halt any further settlement construction, respect the political and civil rights of its Palestinian citizens, pursue a fair solution to the plight of Palestinian refugees, lift its blockade on Gaza and end its military occupation of the Palestinian Territories;
3. calling upon legitimate representatives of the State of Israel and the Palestinian people to negotiate in good faith a just resolution that respects the spirit and intentions of UNGA Resolution 194 and UNSC Resolution 242;
4. pursuing and supporting the use of diplomatic and economic means to exert pressure on the State of Israel in such a manner as to achieve a just resolution. This includes:
• using Canada’s stature and position in the international community to push for meaningful progress on the topic of Israel and Palestine
• renegotiating the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement in such a manner as to divert from the Canadian market any product made in Israeli settlements
• suspending security trade and cooperation between Canada and Israel indefinitely and until the Gaza siege is lifted, the occupation ends and a just peace is achieved
• revoking the tax-exempt status of any organization operating within Canada that is known to financially support or benefit from Israel’s military occupation
• requesting that the International Criminal Court give greater attention to the situation in Israel and Palestine
• recognizing the State of Palestine
Do not allow arguments of electoral convenience to distract you. The premise upon which these arguments are built does not apply in this case. Simply, we contend that the proposals we set forth are ones that a majority of Canadians can get behind.

anti Z
None of us must indulge seriously those who pit the potential of alleviating suffering and injustice against the convenience of doing so.
In fact, support for Palestinian rights is already the expressed policy of trade unions like the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, the Confédération des syndicats nationaux and the Canadian Labour Congress; student groups like the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario; and faith-based institutions like the United Church of Canada. But perhaps infinitely more important than any endorsement is this fundamental moral tenet: none of us must indulge seriously those who pit the potential of alleviating suffering and injustice against the convenience of doing so. For the sake of Palestinians, we hope you will share this view.
Sincerely,

Greg Albo, Judith Haiven, Michael Keefer, Janet Conway and 40 others

Israel renews itself—not!

July 3, 2017

Gideon Levy the brilliant and fearless Haaretz scribe I have often quoted here could become the first Israeli Philip Roth, well maybe the second after David Grossman suddenly took a comedic turn with his novel A Horse Walks Into A Bar.

 
Levy’s most recent article is an ironic gem of perceptive criticism on the sad state of Israel’s No Left Labour voices.

 

ROTH
He writes
The day after tomorrow, Labour will be holding internal leadership elections. We are holding our breaths. Who will be chosen as leader? It’s almost like asking who will lead Israel to its new horizon. There are five leading candidates, all of them worthy. There is a deep and fascinating ideological chasm dividing them and all of them herald major change, if not a revolution. Even if the party’s current leader, Isaac Herzog, is reelected, it will be a major change, because it will be a Herzog like you’ve never known.

 

There’s no need to waste words on what will happen if one of the others is elected. It would be like Britain’s New Labour Party. A revolution. The next leader is already warming up and peace is warming up for him in the capitals of the region. In Ramallah, they’re preparing for the signing ceremony. In the Jenin refugee camp, it’s the celebrations over the end of the occupation. In Gaza, there are plans for removal of their cage of a security fence, and in Tel Aviv, they’re decorating the streets in advance of the freedom holiday for asylum seekers. Israel is renewing itself.

 

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The left wing has come out into the light, human-rights groups have been set free and the Israel Prize is being given to Breaking the Silence. The settlements are being put on hold, nation-state laws – and the submarine purchase contract from Germany – are to be rescinded, and the money that would have gone for the submarines will be redirected to spending on public health. Civil society will come back to life, the process of nationalistic-religious control of the country will be halted and the extreme right-wing group Lehava will be outlawed. We won’t recognize Israel. All we have to do is imagine Amir Peretz, Erel Margalit, Avi Gabbay, Omer Bar-Lev and a new Isaac Herzog at the helm. Imagine.

 

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He then pans the warmed over gruel of the five candidates, the same old, same old status quo tripe which has plunged Israel into a molasses state, one swimming in total stasis. In other words: Each and every one of them said ‘no’ to the most significant potential partner for genuine change in Israel.

 
What do we need that Labor Party for when not a single one of its future leaders says anything that hasn’t already been talked about ad nauseam? Not a single one of them dares say a thing about the crimes of the occupation, about the big elephant in the room. Not a single one of them is proposing a solution, other than proclamations from the past that have been tried endlessly. Not a Corbyn among them, Levy says. Go back to sleep.